June 26, 2013

Irene Dunne, Cimarron


So here it is, my first solo Best Actress post on this blog! In retrospect after having watched Cimarron, I wonder what factors played into Dunne getting her first nomination. Was it because she played a devoted wife? (Academy's favorite...there've been quite a few thus far.) Did she get in because she got swept up in the Cimarron craze of that year? (it was the first film to get more than 6 nominations, and the first to get all of the major 5 nods.) Was it because people were impressed by the aging makeup for her character's older years? (i.e. Meryl Streep, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, etc.) It's not a shocking nomination by any means--there have been worse performances nominated--but it's certainly not an extraordinary one, and I'd even say it's not really a great one either.

For most of Cimarron, Irene Dunne is nothing more than a secondary character, not significant by any means. Dunne is first seen at the dinner table with her family, and then she is mostly seen with her husband, and then she's seen with Yancey's sidekicks and their little slave boy Isaiah. There are few instances when she is even granted her own close-up. She is the devoted wife to a T--doing motherly duties, wifely duties, and mostly fading in the background as Richard Dix dominates the film's first half. But once the second half of the film hits, the tables start turning and the film starts becoming Dunne's story. She is a more stronger woman, more willing to stand up for herself, and more of a tragic character as we see that she's just as much a long-suffering wife as she is a devoted wife. On a tangent, I for one felt that her voice was a little high and jarring, especially so when she's arguing with her husband.

Cimarron screws over Sabra the same way as it does Yancey. Sabra's characterization is pretty spastic--though overall a classy little damsal, she has moments where she's an utter racist. Again, the film doesn't explore this side of her--in one scene she'll scream at her son for falling for a Native American girl and ten minutes later she's twenty years older and has come to terms with her Indian daughter-in-law and her half-breed grandchildren. For the most part the character of Sabra doesn't change--no matter how often and how long her husband abandons the family, her eyes glisten with love once they meet up again. While the character isn't exactly a great outlet for Dunne to showcase her acting chops, she does what she can, conveying her character's inner heartbreak nicely. What I'd like to have seen was why or how she could manage to love him even after he's deserted everyone. There is a moment near the end after Sabra has delivered a speech and introduced her family, when her daughter approaches her and is surprised that she spoke so kindly of her husband. That led me to believe that there is some bitterness harbored from within her. But again the film doesn't bother to explore that, which is a shame as it'd have been a great opportunity to understand a bit more about this very static character. Ultimately, there's nothing much to the performance; I'd imagine that any other actress could do the same thing the exact same way.

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